The Moderna vaccine is one of the most widely-used vaccines developed for the coronavirus, alongside with the Pfizer vaccine, it has an efficacy of over 90% in preventing COVID-19 cases. A lot of controversies arose about the safety of the vaccines and their side effects. Thus a group of Stanford scientists took it upon themselves to publicize the genetic code of the Moderna vaccine.
Stanford scientists were able to save a few drops of the vaccine that were destined to be trashed. They were successfully able to reverse engineer the vaccine and have since posted the mRNA sequence of the vaccine on GitHub for everyone to see.
The sequence is series of color-coded letters, such encoding is known as Spike-encoding. The GitHub post is four pages long with the first two pages being a brief description from the scientists. The scientists explained that “RNA vaccines have become a key tool in moving forward through the challenges raised both in the current pandemic and in numerous other public health and medical challenges”, however “Despite their ubiquity, sequences are not always available for such RNA. Standard methods facilitate such sequencing”.
Two scientists Andrew Fire and Massa Shoura confessed that the spike encoding isn’t actually reverse engineering. They said that “We didn’t reverse engineer the vaccine. We posted the putative sequence of two synthetic RNA molecules that have become sufficiently prevalent in the general environment of medicine and human biology in 2021”.
For those thinking that these scientist used vials that could have been otherwise used to vaccinate someone, they revealed that “This project did not waste vaccine material or reduce in any way the number of vaccine doses available to the public”, and “None of the residual ‘dregs’ that we used for this work came from vaccines that could have been otherwise administered. Think of the thin layer of milk coating a carton that had been fully used and emptied yesterday and sitting on the kitchen counter—if we sequenced that, we’d get a full picture of the cow genome even though the small quantity of milk would be of no use”.
This is a good attempt at making people feel more at ease while getting vaccinated. This kind of research work allows information on all these vaccines to be more accessible to the people. Though not everyone will be able to understand the sequence, it is still reassuring that some people can and they would be able to find if something was amiss.
Though I don’t anyone with the proper equipment could really make the vaccine themselves using this sequence.